As autumn turns to winter, thoughts naturally turn to preparations for travel – whether it’s to visit family or friends for the holidays, or finally taking that long-talked-about vacation. For caretakers of the elderly or of those with a disability, it’s important for travel plans to be thorough and extensive, taking specific needs – like medications, scheduling, and transportation options – into consideration. These tips will help you help your loved ones thoroughly plan for their trip, from the initial booking to arriving at their final destination.
Booking a Flight
Aside from a cruise or tour, a flight usually constitutes the most significant leg of transportation during a trip. To ensure the safety, comfort and ease of the passenger, communicate their needs thoroughly when booking a flight. When booking, be prepared to make requests – for expedited boarding, help at layovers, and seats with extra legroom (fliers may want to get a doctor’s note to present at check-in and the gate). While airlines are required to have them available, it’s best to request a wheelchair when booking, as they may be more difficult and time-consuming to obtain on the day of departure. Be sure to request a chair at the point of departure and arrival, as well as at any layover airports.
The Transportation Security Administration can answer any questions you may have regarding flying with special needs. The hotline (855-787-2227) is also where travelers with special needs can request an airport contact on their day of travel.
Arrival to the Airport
The initial stage of a trip can sometimes be the most challenging. Even able-bodied people can sometimes have difficulty navigating the maze of an airport. The best way to ensure safe arrival for your loved one is to drive them yourself, though other options are available. In many cities, volunteer drivers or medical transportation companies can transport those with special needs.
If you’re unable to help your loved one check in for their flight, airlines may offer assistance. An airport concierge service can also assist the passenger, meeting them curbside, escorting them through check in and bag check, then accompanying them to security. The specifics of this service depend on location, so check in your local area for accurate information.
Security and Boarding the Flight
There’s no way to get around going through security, though a wheelchair, walker, or cane will make waiting in line more comfortable. Before passing through security, inform security officials about any medical conditions the passenger has, or medical equipment he or she is traveling with, preferably by calling TSA 72 hours in advance “to coordinate checkpoint support with a TSA Customer Service Manager located at the airport when necessary.” The TSA website states,
“When a passenger with a disability or medical condition calls TSA Cares, a representative will provide assistance, either with information about screening that is relevant to the passenger’s specific disability or medical condition, or the passenger may be referred to disability experts at TSA… Although every person and item must be screened before entering each secure boarding area, all disability-related equipment, aids, and devices are allowed through security checkpoints once cleared through screening.”
Elderly or disabled fliers may be escorted by one caretaker to the departure gate after providing personal information, and a government-issued ID. Typically, airlines will allow those with physical impairments to board the flight early, to give them time to get settled, and to ensure enough space for stowing carryon luggage.
Arrival at Final Destination
Once the plane has arrived at the destination gate, special-needs passengers should wait until all other passengers have departed, to allow flight attendants to assist them with baggage retrieval and leaving the aircraft. Here, too, a relative or designated escort can meet the passenger at the gate, (48 hours’ notice is recommended), and previously-requested transportation (wheelchair, or electric cart in some locations) can be made available.
Travel for the elderly and disabled may seem complicated, but planning ahead and asking the right questions can make the journey seamless for both your loved one, and for you.